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Kids Say the Darndest Things

By Andreas

I’m into leather.

This may be my favorite gag in all of Annie Hall. While Alvy’s remembering his childhood (and the fact that he “never had a latency period”), his younger self asks the other elementary school kids to tell about their futures. One kid runs a profitable dress company; another is president of the Pinkus Plumbing Company. The second-to-last is a nerdy little boy in a bowtie who says, “I used to be a heroin addict. Now I’m a methadone addict.” But the funniest of all is the last, played by 10-year-old Quinn Cummings, who gives the line quoted above.

The concept behind this joke, of having little kid voices incongruously say sad adult things, is surefire comedy in the first place. But each of these little snippets so perfectly reflects Allen’s offbeat sense of humor, and the little kids give such innocently deadpan line readings, that this scene strikes me somewhere beyond the funnybone. It reaches the part of my brain that knows, even if I don’t laugh, that “holy shit, it’s really funny!” It’s also, of course, a sly comment on the tragedy of ruined promise and the difficulty of judging where a 10-year-old is headed. But first and foremost, it’s about the inherent hilarity of that little girl saying, “I’m into leather.”

Thanks for joining us for Annie Hall Week! Remember, a relationship is like a shark.

Past Annie Hall Week posts: Small Portions · Duane’s Delusions · Alvy and the Wicked Queen · A Very Happy Couple

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A Very Happy Couple

By Andreas

One of the most overt themes in Annie Hall is Alvy’s self-loathing, alongside its complement, his equally massive self-love. In Allen’s eyes, he’s a neurotic, nebbishy, dysfunctional man living in a virile Aryan’s world. He suffers for it, but it’s also his ticket to smug superiority. His troubled relationships with show business, Annie, and himself enable him to easily look down on the less anxiety-stricken simpletons around him. So we get brilliant scenes like this, blending satire with condescension, as Alvy polls a random couple off the street:

Alvy: You look like a very happy couple. Um, are you?

Woman: Yeah!

Alvy: Yeah? So, so, how do you account for it?

Woman: Uh, I’m very shallow and empty, and I have no ideas and nothing interesting to say!

Man: And I’m exactly the same way.

The best part might be the woman’s tone of voice as she explains her relationship to Alvy. She sounds so plausibly like a generic middle-American woman telling him, say, her favorite brand of detergent or presidential candidate. But the words that Allen’s putting in her mouth are improbably stylized to the point of broad caricature, and that dialogue clashes with her naturalistic performance. The end result is funny, spiteful, and incisive, hurling vitriol at the average, everyday folks whom Allen hates so much. They may be happy now, but he gets the last laugh: his scathing jokes at their expense are immortalized on film.

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Alvy and the Wicked Queen

By Andreas

Sometimes I think that every movie should an animated sequence. If done right, it can potentially add so much to a film’s energy and visual imagination. Just look, for example, at Kill Bill Vol. 1 or Run Lola Run, each of which make liberal use of animation’s unique capacities. In Annie Hall, Woody Allen pulls animation out of his postmodern bag of tricks so he can talk about his all-important Woman Problems. Ostensibly talking to a policeman on horseback, he opines,

You know, even as a kid, I always went for the wrong women. I think that’s my problem. When my mother took me to see Snow White, everyone else fell for Snow White. I immediately fell for the wicked queen.

We then get a brief vision of Alvy’s domestic life, with him rendered as Stuart Hample’s comic-strip version of Allen and Snow White’s queen, voiced by Diane Keaton, in place of Annie. The animation, by veteran Disney animator Chris Ishii, is hardly Fantasia quality, but it gets the point across. The dialogue is mildly funny—e.g., “I don’t get a period! I’m a cartoon character.”—but never uproarious. However, the sequence succeeds at its main purpose: it’s startling. It breaks up not only the free-floating narrative, but also the film’s visual flow. It proves that Allen’s taking off the stylistic kid gloves.

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Duane’s Delusions

By Andreas

Nothing else in cinema is quite like a Christopher Walken monologue. Abel Ferrara, Tim Burton, and Quentin Tarantino have all used this fact to their advantages, but before any of them was Woody Allen. In Annie Hall, Walken plays Duane, the title character’s brother. He appears briefly at the dinner table while Alvy’s eating with the Halls, but it’s only later that he gets his time to shine. He beckons Alvy into his bedroom, then (half-shrouded in shadow) launches into a hilariously eerie monologue:

I tell you this because, as an artist, I think you’ll understand. Sometimes when I’m driving, on the road at night, I see two headlights coming toward me… fast, I have this sudden impulse to turn the wheel quickly head-on into the oncoming car. I can anticipate the explosion: the sound of shattering glass, the… flames, rising out of the flowing gasoline.

The only break from Walken’s intensity is a momentary cutaway to Alvy rolling his eyes; Allen is smart enough to just let Walken sit back and do his amazing work. As he’s written, Duane could be just another regional caricature, maybe the psychotic Midwestern counterpart to all the phonies and weirdos Alvy encounters in California. But when he’s invested with Walken’s unique verbal cadences, he comes to life as a real, terrifying force on the screen. It’s a hilarious scene with a magnificent punchline (Duane driving Alvy and Annie to the airport), but Allen’s derision seems miscalculated. Walken is just too damn good.

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Small Portions

By Andreas

All this week, inspired by Cinema-Fanatic.com’s Woody Allen Blogathon, I’ve decided to showcase my favorite moments from what I consider his magnum opus, Annie Hall (1977). Each day at noon, check back for more of Allen’s comic genius (and utter narcissism) as he fights for (and loses) Diane Keaton’s heart, wrangles lobsters, and ponders the subtle phonetic difference between “Jew” and “D’you.” To kick off this orgy of Annie-philia, I begin at the beginning. With Allen’s joke-laden, fourth-wall-breaking monologue:

There’s an old joke. Um, two elderly women are a Catskill Mountain resort, and one of them says, “Boy, the food at this place is really terrible.” The other one says, “Yeah, I know, and such small portions!” Well, that’s essentially how I feel about life: full of loneliness and misery and suffering and unhappiness, and it’s all over much too quickly!

If viewers weren’t aware of Allen’s Borscht-Belt-meets-Bergman schtick going in, they are now. Although it’s essentially a glorified stand-up routine, this opening really gives the film a “postmodern masterpiece” aura, self-consciously framing its non-chronological love story within the context of Allen’s career and pet philosophical obsessions. However, this head-on quality isn’t what sticks with me most about the opening. No, it’s the background.

That beige background is just part of the scene’s absolute visual minimalism. But I’ve always wondered at the choice of beige. It looks slightly dated, but also more distinctive than white or black. It also detracts from the likelihood that the scene’s just, oh, in an empty comedy club or against a random wall. The beige has always given me an otherworldly sci-fi vibe, as if Allen’s floating in some ambiguous space outside of Annie Hall’s diegetic reality. It might be only an arbitrary set decoration choice, but it really colors my perception of the ensuing film. It’s self-indulgent and occasionally grating, yes, but Annie Hall’s still a work to be reckoned with.

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